HANG TIME WEST — So far in the 2012-13 season, DeMarcus Cousins has been saddled with three suspensions – two courtesy of the league, one via the team – and the reasons are getting more mundane. A player arguing with a coach is a basic misdeed that happens a lot in this league, although not usually on such a public stage as the Staples Center sideline, and is garden-variety histrionics compared to leaving the locker room in uniform after a game to return to the court to confront Spurs broadcaster Sean Elliott or the time Cousins asked Dallas’ O.J. Mayo to turn his head and cough.
That will have to do for progress, though, and welcome for the real sign of trouble for the Kings.
It is not that Cousins is still having problem harnessing his emotions. That is so yesterday. It’s that Cousins is getting worse.
Well into his third season, time enough for any player to have grasped how to carry himself as a professional, even a player still just 22, the behavior of the centerpiece of the Kings’ foundation is regressing. That it comes at the same time his play is also backsliding compounds the concern, but that’s nothing compared to the greater worry: Cousins is becoming more turbulent the longer his career goes, when it should be the other way around.
The two-day suspension that ended Monday with his reinstatement in the wake of the shouting match with coach Keith Smart on Friday in Los Angeles will be viewed by some as the Kings taking a hard line. That’s a natural read. What should not be overlooked is that this was also, and probably more, about the Kings taking care of the Kings.
While youth has been oversold as a reason for life in the cellar, they do have two lottery picks in their first or second season (Thomas Robinson and Jimmer Fredette) and a second-year player is in the rotation (Isaiah Thomas). That’s a lot of investments by the organization and that’s a lot of developing NBA minds being shaped by what swirls around them. Management has to deal with this to save an entire locker room, not to save Cousins.
This is when it stopped being about Cousins and started being about the possibility other people are being affected. Or infected.
Cousins’ actions can no longer be explained away as rampaging immaturity and people can no longer naïvely write off his improvements last season to that horrible, horrible Paul Westphal being fired as coach and Smart bonding with Cousins after taking over. It was never about Westphal. It was about Cousins bothering to get in shape a month after training camp opened. Yeah, Westphal was obviously holding Cousins back.
Immaturity is showing up at the pre-Draft camp in Chicago in poor shape when Cousins knew as well as anyone his attitude was the real question. Youth is reporting to his first Kings camp at less than 100 percent. Giving him every benefit of the doubt, immaturity may even have been arriving for the start of the 2011-12 season, with the chance for a fresh start, in sloppy condition.
The last five or six months have been a real ride for Cousins.
Team USA invited Cousins to be on the Select team, a group of young players who would work against the stars headed to the Olympics later in the summer. If there ever was a time to show up, be ready, tape a smile on his face and not say anything other than “Yes,” “No,” “Please” and “Thank you,” this was it. A positive review from Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski would have been image changing. Instead, Colangelo publicly dinged Cousins’ bad attitude.
Trying to spark a confrontation with Elliott — earning a two-game suspension from the NBA — was the worst sign of all that Cousins is not close to being able to control himself. Striking Mayo in the groin cost Cousins another game from the league, though the action did little to surprise the many opponents who already considered him a cheap-shot artist.
And now this. Cousins did well to publicly apologize to Smart immediately after the game against the Clippers, something positive that came out of it, but the Kings obviously understood things had gone too far. They need to try, again, to find a way to get Cousins on a path to reach his All-Star potential. But they need to worry about the young players he could influence. The Kings need to save themselves.